After nearly three months of preparation for the Mr. HBCU pageant, Mister A&T James Bowen II’s work has paid off.

“When they called my name, it was a moment of relief and gratification to know that I could win it not only for myself but on behalf of A&T,” he said.

Bowen, 21, competed against contestants from eight other historically black colleges or universities at the 11th annual Mr. HBCU Kings’ Leadership Conference and Competition at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. The contestants participated in four categories – oratory; talent; ease of manor (formal wear); and question and answer.

“They called best talent and best oratory so when I got both, I asked, ‘So does that mean I won?’,” Bowen said.

Bowen became the second Mister A&T to be named Mr. HBCU. Two years ago, Reginald Nathaniel Johnson won the competition in the same manner as Bowen, claiming the oratory and talent portions of the competition before winning the overall crown.

“We spoke right after I won,” Bowen said. “He told me how much he believed in me and supported me and how he knew I had the potential to win the whole time.”

Being crowned Mr. HBCU isn’t the only thing Bowen and Johnson have in common. Like Johnson, Bowen was Mr. Freshman and Mr. Junior before being crowned Mr. A&T.

For his talent, Bowen performed a dramatic presentation that allowed him to sing and recite an original poem about his relationship with his father.

“Talent is something that you really work on, and for me to win with that (presentation), it meant a lot to me,” he said.

Bowen said preparation for the competition was a lot more intense than for the Mister A&T pageant and a bit more nerve wracking.

“Here, I had an idea of who my competition would be, and with this I didn’t. It forced me to be the best me I could be. I grew a lot,” he said. “I wanted to present my best self and the best version of A&T I could.”

Bowen is set to graduate in May with a degree in industrial engineering. Plans after graduation are unclear, but he is in the process of interviewing with Teach for America.

“I want to teach for a few years and then go to graduate school,” he said.

For some, engineering to education seems to be a bit of a leap, but not for Bowen.

“I thought about the people who influenced me when I was growing up, and a lot of them were teachers,” he said. “A lot of kids in low income areas don’t really see a lot of black male teachers who can encourage them and be mentors. This is an opportunity for me to do that.”